“Christian Humanism from a Catholic Perspective” by Father Martin Schlag


This past March, Trinity Western University was privileged to host Father Martin Schlag, Academic Director of the Markets, Culture and Ethics Project at the Research Centre of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. In his lecture, “Christian Humanism from a Catholic Perspective,” Fr. Schlag drew upon the deep cultural legacy of the Catholic Church from the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century to the development of Catholic Social Teaching during and after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The structure of the lecture consisted of one main point supported by two minor “lines of inquiry”: First, his definition of Christian humanism, followed by an exposition of a Catholic notion of the secular and its implications for a robust social philosophy rooted in Christian anthropology.

According to Fr. Schlag, “the concept of Christian humanism is used to refer to the contribution Christian faith makes to human happiness on earth, not only to happiness in heaven.” According to this definition, a Christian humanist is profoundly interested in the social, cultural and economic conditions for human flourishing. Christian humanism flows from a “positive vision of the world that includes God as creator, redeemer and reintegrator of all human affairs.”

If this is the fundamental task of of Christian humanism, then a clear and positive picture of the secular is vital part of the larger social philosophy. Citing two major historical trends in the Church, anti-Protestantism (governed by the church’s reactions to the Reformation) and anti-liberalism (the church’s reaction to the French Revolution), Schlag argues that Catholic Social Teaching took time to develop a consistently positive concept of the secular. It was not until the Second Vatican Council and the Nouvelle Theologie movement in the twentieth century that a distinctively modern Christian humanism emerged on the Catholic theological scene. By rejecting the stark separation of nature and grace that was characteristic of earlier Scholastic theologies, theologians such as Henri de Lubac offered a profoundly positive attitude towards the secular: “Christ fully reveals man to man.” According to this view, Christ is the true humanity–not only of the church, but for all human beings. While of course there is ultimately still a distinction between nature and grace, the two are not opposed. Rather, it is grace that completes nature.

Among the most important implications of this view of the secular is the simple idea that Christians are by definition deeply concerned with human flourishing. Virtues like justice and charity are not only viable within the walls of the church, but also in the secular world. For Schlag, “values, practices and institutions combine as vehicles of cultural improvement. They turn out to correspond to the classical Transcendentals verum (true), bonum (good), pulchrum (beautiful).”

Fr. Schlag sat down with The Humanist Lens to explain some of the key points he discussed in his lecture at TWU. Check out our video box to see what he has to say!

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